This blog belongs to Anna but since you are all reading it and she is on holiday I will address it to you (which puts her in third person). My apologies for being so rude – Anna’s friend Jaqui.
Talking about death is hard – we’re unpractised and unwilling for it to feature in our lives. When someone has been told they have a definite timeline on this earth – it becomes something we reluctantly consider. We think about their death and then inevitably ours too. All my attempts so far to discuss the topic in a meaningful way have ended up sounding trite.
Anyhow, this is how it went for me when Anna called with the news that she had Non-Hodgkin’s Disease. At first, I was thrilled to hear her voice as we hadn’t spoken for some time. So I prattle on until she calmly states the reason for her call. Afterwards I am quiet for a long time. I remember thinking “some sort of religious framework would be helpful right now”.
I knew it was serious but I had a friend who had survived this disease and I knew of others too so I remained optimistic. Well, actually, although I thought about the fact it was a possibility she could die - it didn’t really register - it wasn’t real. At least not until an email arrived months later after she had collapsed and been taken to hospital – on the same day she got the all clear from the doctors. “Isn’t that unreal?” I keep repeating to myself “…on the same day!”
With this news I feel completely ineffectual in terms of how I might help and waiver between disbelief and being upset – trying to approach it all pragmatically. But I’m all over the place. I have heard that a number of terminally ill people experience severe loneliness as many friends and relatives stop or limit contact because they don’t know what to say or don’t want to intrude. This is not the case with Anna. She has dozens of people who want to “be there”. I try to find a way to be there too in a way that will not cost her a lot of energy and I know to limit my “helpful” suggestions. On one visit we talk about how strange it feels to be having so much communication when we generally make contact once or twice a year. I am careful when I ring not to talk twaddle. Nor do I want to ring and be morose or too chirpy but I do want to talk with her and stay close by. I definitely care but it’s awful to ask “how are you?” and in this sense the blog she has been publishing is helpful. The fact is that everything I do say sits alongside the reality that my friend is dying. Nothing seems appropriate or even really matters. My difficulties at work are trivial. My plans for the weekend or even next year... who cares? You get the picture.
I have thought about what it will be like knowing that she isn’t there and I just can’t. She always has been there since I was a younger version of the me I am now. It’s a long time but I haven’t actually changed much in that 25 years and I don’t think she has either. I can remember lots of things she said that made me laugh or sometimes even gasp in horror at her different take on the world. It didn’t matter that we didn’t always agree – Anna was rock solid and straight up. For a long time she and I pursued careers that were at best non-linear and unpolished. I derived a certain degree of comfort from this fact that I wasn’t alone so I do think it’s crappy that just as she really finds her niche in the business world this happens.
Much respect to Anna for nudging me get a grip by sharing what has been happening to her. It’s really helpful when people do talk about their death. I am going to get things sorted, make a will and if anyone I know gets sick I’ll talk to them about it – if they want to.
It’s a dual task remaining optimistic and being realistic. I’ve reached the stage where I am aware that this probably won’t be a miracle story. It doesn’t seem right but at last it seems I have accepted that it is so.
Bula from Fiji. It's sunny, tropical and hot. Off to sit by the pool. Hope it's raining in Auckland :o)